Since it began almost two decades ago, Ali Krieger’s soccer career has taken her more places than she can remember: dozens of countries, three World Cups and at least two operating rooms.
But this year her career will come to an end, she announced on Thursday, though not before a final challenge that will be a far cry from the glory of lifting league and World Cup trophies. Before she calls it quits, Krieger, 38, wants to turn around her club team, Gotham F.C. of the National Women’s Soccer League, after a season she would prefer to forget.
“It was terrible,” Krieger said of last season, her first with the club. “I don’t think I’d ever been on a team in last place.”
Last season’s champion, the Portland Thorns, and the regular-season winner, OL Reign, are the more likely candidates for success in the new N.W.S.L. season, which opens this weekend. But Krieger, a defender, said she was determined to help turn around Gotham after a year in which the team started 4-8, fired its coach and then didn’t win again. Ten games. Nine losses. No fun.
“We were so unhappy because we didn’t understand our roles and responsibilities,” Krieger said. “No one really knew what we were supposed to be doing out on the field.”
In an interview last week, she said that she was optimistic that this year would be better and that a revival could be accomplished under the team’s new Spanish coach, Juan Carlos Amorós.
“I don’t say this lightly,” Krieger said. “I have played for some of the best coaches in the world. He is the ultimate package. I’ve never seen so many players this happy, whether they are playing every minute or not.
“Everyone has an understanding of the ‘why.’ Why you do every little thing in training or in your specific position on the field.”
Gotham scored a league-low 16 goals in its 22 games last season, and no individual player had more than three — not a recipe for success. To address that glaring weakness, the team added Lynn Williams, who has scored 15 times for the women’s national team, up front. But Krieger said scoring responsibility does not rest solely on the strikers, and the team also added defender Kelley O’Hara and midfielder Allie Long, two more players with deep national team experience. They, and Krieger, should give the team a little more organization and a little more connection up the field.
That said, Krieger admitted, “Adding Lynn Williams to any squad, you are 100 percent better.”
No matter how her final season turns out, Krieger said she was confident the N.W.S.L., which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, was on the right path after a season marred by a sprawling abuse scandal that affected multiple clubs.
“It’s definitely better,” she said. “Now we have sponsorships and ownerships and club officials who actually care. We’re not considered a charity anymore. This is a business.”
While acknowledging the pinnacle of her career had been being a part of World Cup-winning teams in 2015 and 2019, Krieger said, “I’m a club over country girl.” One of her most memorable moments, she said, came in her first season in Europe, winning the Champions League and the treble with a German team then known as F.F.C. Frankfurt.
“I didn’t realize that it was that important at the time,” Krieger said of her early club successes. “I had never really watched a lot of European women’s teams play. I could not just pop online and watch the Bundesliga.”
There is plenty from the European model, she said, that could be valuable for the N.W.S.L., including an emphasis on developing the next generation of talent.
“I played with 15- and 16-year-olds,” she said. “I can remember Svenja Huth” — now a mainstay of the German national team — “she was 16 playing in her first Champions League game in front of me.
“That model is something we could hopefully get to in the future. I don’t know if we have the infrastructure at every single club to do that just yet, but we’re getting there.”
The on-field style of European play is different as well, she said. American teams often rely on an advantage of athleticism, and pace and pressure, rather than on a technical approach.
“In Europe, players are very technical and skillful,” Krieger said. “They tend to play smarter, not harder. We’re trying to bring that kind of mentality here. Just kicking it long and running, high-pressing constantly, is not always going to be the best style.
“Our younger players have the technical ability and the skill set to really do both. It’s exciting to see the future coming and mixing the two styles.”
For Krieger, retirement will mean more time with her growing family — she married her former national teammate Ashlyn Harris in 2019, and the couple have two children, ages 2 and 8 months — and possibly a place on the board of trustees for her alma mater, Penn State.
But that will come after one last season. After that, she said, she will be happy to leave the next steps — and the battles for more wins, safer workplaces and equal pay — to players coming up behind her.
“We had to fight tooth and nail,” she said of the struggles of players of her era and earlier ones. “To even have a voice, we had to win. That sparked a different mentality in our generation. We were a bunch of psychos out there. I don’t know if I’ve seen that type of urgency yet from the younger players because they were brought up in a different time.
“It’s not better or worse. But that mentality piece is the next step to create the winning way that we have paved for them. In order for them to continue to win, that mentality, that urgency, determination and grit will have to be instilled. Daily.”